Astrophotography with the LG G4, or how I used a smartphone to take awesome photos of the night sky


To many, December 14 was just an ordinary Monday. To nerds and hopelessly romantic individuals, such as myself, it was the peak of the Geminids meteor shower – a yearly event marked by hundreds of shooting stars illuminating the night sky. Needless to say, they're quite pretty to look at, and observing them makes a great date night. As long as your lady does not mind the cold, that is, but hey, you're there to keep her warm.

Dating tips is not what this article is about, however, so let us not distract ourselves. In the paragraphs below, I'll show you how to take awesome photos of the night sky using a smartphone that supports manual camera controls. All of the photos given as samples were captured using the LG G4 and its awesome 16MP main camera. 

Being at the right place at the right time


Taking photos of the night sky is a tricky business, to say the least. You cannot just point your camera up and expect it to capture a decent image. That's because light pollution – light emitted at night by buildings, houses, street lamps and what not – makes stars barely visible with a naked eye. Your camera's sensor can't see much of their twinkling light either. To overcome this obstacle, a couple of friends and I drove about 12 kilometers (~7.5 miles) away from the city, where light pollution was not an issue. Luckily for us, the sky was clear, and the weather conditions were favorable. We were off to a good start. 


Setting up shop


In plain words, a photo is light captured over time, and at night, light is something you don't have much of. To compensate for its lack, a camera has to capture light over a longer period of exposure time – while a typical daytime photo may require a hundredth of a second to be captured, night-time photos might require several seconds of exposure to look decent. This is why you want your camera to be as stable as possible. Stability is of utmost importance, as every slight movement of the camera will inevitably produce motion blur. Using a camera with OIS might help, but only to a small extent.

While tripods and mounts for smartphone photography are available, I didn't have one to use. I had to improvise. The first idea that came to mind was to rest my LG G4 against the car's windshield. This solution worked, but it meant that I couldn't aim the camera at whatever part of the sky I wanted. Then I tried placing the phone on the ground or on the car's roof and resting it against my wallet. This approach worked like a charm.


Configuring the camera manually


Using the right camera controls was crucial in my situation, as the LG G4's automatic mode was never going to produce the results I wanted. So I launched the camera in manual mode and started tinkering with the sliders. I knew I had to use a long exposure time – between 15 and 30 seconds – to allow the camera to capture plenty of light. This also gave me a better chance at capturing a shooting star, as it was a matter of luck as well. I had to point the camera at the right place at the right time. Using a high sensitivity setting was also essential, so I experimented with the higher of the available values – between ISO800 and ISO2000. No less importantly, I used the camera's self timer set to a 3-second delay. Without it, the tap of my finger on the shutter button would have certainly resulted in blurry photos. I was shooting the photos in RAW, of course. Focus was set to infinity, and the white balance was at 4400K. I didn't bother adjusting the latter precisely, as I was going to edit it later anyway.


The impressive results


I took about 60 photos that night over the course of roughly an hour and a half. Alas, I was not able to capture any of the brighter meteors – a couple were bright enough to cast our shadows on the ground – but I did capture at least one in photo #4 below. The longer bright trail of light is a passing plane, but the shorter one near it is an actual shooting star. All in all, the photos aren't looking too shabby for something taken with a smartphone. And while I did enhance the RAW files to produce the shots I wanted, I'd say that even the JPEGs straight out of the camera look quite impressive. What do you, guys, think?

Related phones

G4
  • Display 5.5" 1440 x 2560 pixels
  • Camera 16 MP / 8 MP front
  • Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 808, Hexa-core, 1800 MHz
  • Storage 32 GB + microSDXC
  • Battery 3000 mAh(18.5h talk time)

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52 Comments

1. DoggyDangerous

Posts: 1028; Member since: Aug 28, 2015

wow, this is amazing. mobile phones usually struggle in capturing any star

2. mistercarter

Posts: 360; Member since: Sep 01, 2011

i love the G4 camera, it's amazingly good and the manual controls got no competition yet. the only downside i find with its camera is the awful blue shade the sky shows in bright daylight, if only LG could fix that, it would be the best camera in a phone today

8. nenadmitrovic

Posts: 64; Member since: Aug 01, 2014

Manual controls have no competition yet? Tried lumia?http://allaboutwindowsphone.com/images/flow/misc/procameralive.jpg

11. rsiders

Posts: 2009; Member since: Nov 17, 2011

I owned the Lumia 1020 and still own the Lumia 920. The limitation of 4 seconds exposure is no match for the sheer amount of light 30 seconds can cspture especially for these types of scenarios.

24. shadez10

Posts: 427; Member since: Jan 15, 2012

I owned an Asus zenfone and Manual mode has 32 secs exposure time...

27. marorun

Posts: 5029; Member since: Mar 30, 2015

Yeah And asus zenfone sensor is not at the same level of quality. But nice move on Asus side to make this available its still nice. but 2 more second on an inferior sensor wont give better result lol.

35. shadez10

Posts: 427; Member since: Jan 15, 2012

well im just saying it has 32 secs and not about image quality... zenfones takes decent images though...

3. alexvv

Posts: 165; Member since: Oct 16, 2013

sadly very very few give you proper manual controls and it's not something you can add later using a third party app.... and many of those who do, give you 2sec of longest exposure which is not enough

4. natypes

Posts: 1110; Member since: Feb 02, 2015

That's awesome. I know nothing about photography, does my Note 5's pro settings have everything I need for this?

7. marorun

Posts: 5029; Member since: Mar 30, 2015

Nope its dont support all the manual setting needed.

12. rsiders

Posts: 2009; Member since: Nov 17, 2011

The Note 5 is awesome and if you are seriously asking this question and not just here to troll, yes the Note 5 has all the proper controls for this type of photography although to a lesser degree with a max of 10 seconds exposure. But that's still plenty.

16. marorun

Posts: 5029; Member since: Mar 30, 2015

We tested it and the result where underwhelming compared to the LG G4 30 sec. Its may be plenty in others cases but not in this one.

20. natypes

Posts: 1110; Member since: Feb 02, 2015

No, I was serious. I know nothing about photography. I do play with the pro settings to get better low light pics, but I just move sliders until it looks good, I don't know what the actual settings are exactly. marorun gtfo with your Samsung hate. You're laughable. Where's your HTC love now?

28. marorun

Posts: 5029; Member since: Mar 30, 2015

I love HTC as well the M9 is more fluid than the note 5 , LG G4 , Nexus 6P ect. Its also have a build i prefere in all aluminium and i prefere the design. Still i like to give credit where due and the LG G4 camera is about the best there is thanks to much more advance manual control than most phone on the market paired with nearly the best sensor on a smartphone. You are laughable with your empty comment. If you dont know photography dont talk crap plz.

33. natypes

Posts: 1110; Member since: Feb 02, 2015

hahahah B/c I don't know photography I can't talk about phones? Your simplicity is amusing. More fluid lolllll ok Merry xmas. Why don't you buy everyone you know an M9 so HTC won't go out of business.

25. combatmedic870

Posts: 986; Member since: Sep 02, 2015

Yeah that's not long enough for Astro. 20 seconds at iso 1000 isn't either. But anything much longer then 20 seconds with a longer lens like a 28-30mm will create star trails.

23. crzykiller

Posts: 88; Member since: Jan 03, 2015

Don't listen to marorun hes a retard. The Note 5 has all the proper manual controls including shutter speed up to 10 seconds

29. marorun

Posts: 5029; Member since: Mar 30, 2015

crzykiller you are the retard. 10 second exposition is not enuf to get good result for taking picture of stars. Also when you use it in a city to make pictures with lighttrail of cars on the road the trails are a lots smaller and the effect less interesting. Dont be an ass each phone has advantage and disadvantage and you obviously dont work in the industry. Here we do all kind of testing as we have direct access to most phone on the market half price ( its pay to work for the carriers ) I dont understand those moronic idiot thats give empty comment just to cry like little baby because there note 5 get butthurt sometime.

5. TMHKR

Posts: 202; Member since: Dec 08, 2012

How you solved the problem of stars movement during those 30 seconds?

9. Nick_T

Posts: 186; Member since: May 27, 2011

Looking at the photos now, I do think that 30 seconds was a bit too long of an exposure. But if you don't zoom in, the trail behind the stars is barely noticeable.

15. mawi2013

Posts: 67; Member since: Oct 18, 2014

how do you set focus to infinity?

6. marorun

Posts: 5029; Member since: Mar 30, 2015

We did the same here we tested several phone and only LG G4 was able to make great result. All other phone including the nexus 6P and samsung S6 all failed. This is what a real camera is.

10. Dragan081

Posts: 1; Member since: Dec 18, 2015

You doing it all wrong.Thet is a too high iso,you should never go above 400 iso because it will be too grainy,and vith the exposure of 30 second and low iso you vill get a better results. At list i did with 100 or 150 iso,you get noise free photos and perfectly visible stars. Also you have voice shutter control,you dont have to set a timer,just say the magic word :)

26. combatmedic870

Posts: 986; Member since: Sep 02, 2015

Actually in Astro photography your doing it wrong. You need the sensor sensitivity to be higher to bring out the stars. Most Astro shots are actually shot at ISO3200 and higher. You need a cameras with a clean high ISO. Which no phone camera in the next 1-3 years will be.

32. ccddqe

Posts: 1; Member since: Dec 18, 2015

From some dim memories, I think you're both right, because it just depends. Increased exposure time scales photons counted (which is the function of pixel) in linear fashion. Changing ISO also roughly proportional. The noise from photon uncertainty goes with sqrt; 100 photons gives 10 photons, 1000 photons gives 31 photons. More noise for 1000, but as fraction of totals we have 10% at 100, and 3% at 1000. 3x better noise stats, but needed 10times more exposure, or less 'more exposure', and more ISO. But then there's camera noise. Some cameras have quite a lot of additional noise at higher ISO settings. The key is system readout noise (RON). Compared, e.g. to one chip, at 1000iso, have say 80% quantum efficiency (QE), and have say 15 electrons (e-) RON, while another could have 60% and 6e- RON at 1000iso. Anyway, it's all etc etc. Even on back of envelope, quite few factors, takes some effort compare such things, or just to try decide on best settings just for one camera. Just try different things. Focus is often key, and no shake, none at all. The cone of light incident on the detector is spread in both cases, reducing the flux for each pixel, same total flux, but more photon noise, more pixel's RON, etc etc. Hang a plastic bag full of stones or whatever under the tripod, helps.

13. rsiders

Posts: 2009; Member since: Nov 17, 2011

With any long exposure shot like this I tend to keep my ISO in the 100-200 level but I think I'll try the high ISO levels to see what I get. These pictures are amazing though coming from our phones. No need to bash or compete for the best camera in today's market. Just go out there and make magic with what you have. Here's mine from my back deck with no edits.https://flic.kr/p/AG7hLZ

14. rsiders

Posts: 2009; Member since: Nov 17, 2011

I just love my LG V10.

30. marorun

Posts: 5029; Member since: Mar 30, 2015

Love the effect its gave to the cloud :)

17. mayur007

Posts: 593; Member since: Apr 10, 2012

yes thq phonearena yes lG G4 is good for astrophotography if you want to improve the image click 2 - 3 then stack them

18. vedraj

Posts: 77; Member since: Oct 04, 2013

omg u have a lot of light pollution there.....here in India u can easily see the Orion, naked eyed.

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